Letting the Children Lead Us

Isaiah spoke of this moment: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

Do you agree with me that it’s high time we turn the 21st century church over to our youth? The Holy Spirit has shown me a way to do it. Consider joining me.

The Pittsburgh Presbytery has elected me to serve as a Commissioner to the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this June in Detroit, Michigan. I accepted nomination to this office when, through prayer and reflection, God’s will became crystal clear to me on how I am to do the job of leading the church through the office of Commissioner to GA. What I saw was God’s desire that I root myself in a spiritual discipline of watching how the Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs) vote, then voting with them.

There’s a good chance this will not be easy for me but it will be good, very good, to do. Like many, I can stubbornly insist on my way, and I can dismiss young people as inexperienced “children,” too. This is why I see voting with the YAADs as a serious spiritual discipline requiring preparation, community and sacrifice. Otherwise, I am not sure I can do it.

I expect many diligent Presbyterians’ reaction will echo my friend, a wonderful Ruling Elder in a vibrant local church. She was appalled. “But you are supposed to listen for the Holy Spirit in your own soul and then vote,” she said. When I shared this concern with a pastor friend, he paused for a moment then asked, “If you preach from a prepared manuscript, are you any less inspired by the Holy Spirit?” My sense of call to this discipline to vote with the YAADs feels to me as deep and strong as any of the central, pivotal calls of my life. I simply cannot resist this approach to GA.

Certainly, our children will make mistakes—can they be any worse than ours? Of this I am sure: it is past time for us to let our children lead us.

Given that the present median age of Presbyterians is 61, is it as clear to you as it is to me that it is time for us over 60—and even 50—to let go? Sure, we have energy, intelligence, imagination and love to give in serving the church. Never before in all of human history have elders had the health and longevity we have. Yes, churches with a median age of 65 can be robust Christian communities for a good while yet.

But the world we have known and even know right now is not the world of the future. The church of the 20th century which we hold dear is not the church of the here and now, let alone of the future. Look at what we have made of the PCUSA with our continued strife over interpretation of Scripture that began long ago, proceeded through the Biblical treatment of slavery, the Modernist Controversy, the conflicts over Angela Davis and the Vietnam War to our long, divisive tension over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion. It’s time to admit some of our ways have missed the mark.

same sex trends

Peace in the church lies with the inspiration and faithfulness of our youth. Am I aware that our youth are overwhelmingly in favor of the freedom of LGBT people to marry, an important topic coming before us in June? I am (surveys show that even evangelical young people favor same-gender marriage). For me, this means our children can lead this era to a blessed close if we turn the church over to them. Of course, our children face their own temptations toward strife, just not that one.

Voting with the YAADs is what I intend to do as Commissioner in Detroit; here’s how it will work. Every presbytery elects one young person as a YAAD, resulting in 173 ranging in age from late high school students to recent college grads. As Advisory Delegates, they are assigned to a committee where they have voice and vote. However, while they have voice, they only have an advisory vote on the floor of the whole assembly.

Voting is done electronically. Advisors vote first. This includes the YAADs along with other kinds of advisors (theological students, missionaries and ecumenical partners). The count and percentage of the vote for Yea, Nay and Abstain are flashed on the big screen with bar graphs, giving the Commissioners a sense of the advisors’ mind on the motion. After that, the GA Commissioners vote. Discernment in prayer and conversation led to my strong conviction that I am to watch for how the YAADs vote and vote as their majority does.

If you are also a Commissioner, I encourage you to join me from the first vote to the last. If you are not going to GA, you could share this idea with your presbytery Commissioners, asking them to prayerfully consider it. You could also work to turn your session and presbytery over to the youth. Let them lead us.

I ask you to join me in committing to two things starting now. Pray and study about how the young have led the church in the past and what delights can arise from their leadership. If you cannot fully hand over your commissioner vote to following the YAAD majority, then consider voting with them on the measures you feel less passionate about and plan to seek out YAADs for conversation about the choices that are crucial to you. Commit to making an effort to find out what YAADs think. Can you do that?

And share this idea with others serving at GA. I will continue to share my ideas.

We can do it! We can let the children lead us.

26 Responses
  • Andy James on February 12, 2014

    Janet—This is an interesting idea. As a former YAD (from the days when there was only one “A” in that acronym!) who heard a substantial portion of my call in my service to the broader church at GA, I appreciate the thought. However, I’m not convinced that I can support your decision.

    First of all, as a younger teaching elder and one of the youngest presbytery Stated Clerks in the PCUSA, I hope that we can all be a little more careful about the language of “children” here. Our YAADs are not children—they are people like us who bring broad and varied perspectives from their lives, and we need to listen to them as our colleagues. They should never be singled out as “children” in any way, even in linking this idea to biblical texts.

    Second, there are broader dynamics of age at play in the General Assembly gathering. YAADs are given less priority in choosing speakers in debate—how does this action change that dynamic? What about the younger teaching elders in many of our presbyteries who are quite unlikely to be elected as commissioners when so many of the systems for nominations are based on seniority? How does this idea affect those equally-large problems? And might it even exacerbate them?

    My own experience as a YAD shows a final concern with this idea. One evening, one of our presbytery’s commissioners who was seated next to me came in late from dinner, right as a crucial procedural vote was moving forward. He sat down just as commissioners were being asked to vote, turned to me, and asked, “Andy, how should I vote?” On this particular issue—though I don’t remember exactly what it was—I remember that we quite likely had very different perspectives. I honestly don’t remember how I told him to vote, but as I think back to that moment and wonder what I would do today, I think I would suggest that he vote as would fit his perspective, not mine, because I would hope that he would ask me to do the same. That would indicate that our voices were all being heard, which is, I think, ultimately the purpose and goal of our work together.

    I appreciate this idea, but even more I hope and pray that we will honor the voices of everyone who gathers in Detroit in June even as we work to make better space for young adults in the life and leadership of our beloved church. Best wishes as you prayerfully consider and prepare for this broad and deep calling to serve our church in this important work.

  • Janet Edwards on February 13, 2014

    Dear Andy,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. What I hear as a cautious tone grieves me as it reflects the fear of contention that has been too prevalent in our church family for so long. You can share here what you see and feel. As far as I know myself, I will not take offense.

    Let me respond to each of your thoughts.

    First, when I shared this idea with others through the fall, several also expressed a sensitivity to calling YAADS “children.” I retained it primarily because it is a fact. Given the likely average age of commissioners at GA, most of us will be of the generation that is the parent or even grandparent of the young adult advisors. And we do carry the baggage of memory and dismissal that can entail. I hope you can see I am trying to shed this and receive the YAADS as adults.

    Your counsel to leave aside the Biblical verses that refer to children prompts me to ask you a question. How do you understand Isaiah and the other passages that refer to children? Or perhaps I should have used Joel 2:28: “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, . . .and your young men shall see visions.”

    Second, I agree with you completely that there are broader issues at play than what my commitment addresses. I don’t feel as if I have any power over those. I do have power over my vote at GA and a conviction that the Holy Spirit is pushing me to use it by voting with the YAADS. I see a similar inspiration in the Synod of the Covenant overture to make YAADS Young Adult Commissioners with vote on the floor of GA. Perhaps you are inspired to address one of the other dynamics you name. What might it be?

    Finally, your experience with the commissioner who asked you how to vote is instructive for me. What he was asking was complicated. I think your present inclination to tell him to vote as you, from knowing him, would expect him to vote—not as you desire on the issue—is the honorable, collegial thing to do. I get the temptation to tell him to vote for what you want. Or how the Spirit is inspiring you.

    Everyone at GA is charged to vote as the Holy Spirit inspires us. The Spirit has inspired me to commit my vote to the majority of the YAADS. I tried to flee from this for six months and could not. I am asking others to consider this spiritual discipline as well and I trust their discernment. I pray our dialogue contributes to a church-wide deliberation upon empowering our younger generation.

    I look forward to your further reflection. Peace, Janet

  • Craig Barth on February 14, 2014

    Amen for your concept, Janet. ! I was a R.A. Commissioner at GA 220, and I was a mere babe at age 56, at the time. I think the median age for R.A. Commissioners was 74, as I recall. what does that tell you?
    I dare say the YAADS are muchly involved & educated in the issues facing the Church today, perhaps more than those of a generation ago. Operating under the premise that we need to rapidly evolve into the Church of the future, shouldn’t we call support Synod of the Covenant’s overture?

  • Janet Edwards on February 14, 2014

    Dear Craig,

    Thanks for your “Amen,” and for sharing your experience that supports my point.

    Yes, I certainly agree that we should support the Synod of the Covenant’s overture and I assume the YAADs at the assembly will support it though I could be wrong.

    One difficulty for me with the overture, as I understand it, is it will take a pretty long process to be put into place (as is true of most important changes in the PCUSA). I see every moment that goes by as a loss of opportunity that takes us closer to that point of turning out the light of the PCUSA and closing the door.

    Do you have that same sense of urgency or not? Peace, Janet

  • Craig Barth, R.E. on February 14, 2014

    First, forgive my typo. not R.A., but R.E (Ruling Elder). I do share the same sense of urgency. But evolve or morph into what? Or is that what we need a ruling/deliberative body the size of GA (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) in order to determine the “what”? The NEXT Church group is seriously looking into this.
    If in 2040 PCUSA continues to place its emphasis on Tall Steeple Sanctuaries, rather than, “Upper Room” gatherings, gatherings similar to many of the 1001 Worshiping Communities, it will have empty structures. The “spiritual but not religious” will meet in peoples’ homes and on line and leave new Church Formation Committees in the dust. Will these new groups have any use for a denominational label of “Presbyterian”? I dont know. We are not alone in this conundrum, as all the mainline denominations are facing declining numbers. But again, I believe we have to move fast and be flexible.

  • Bill on February 15, 2014

    In my opinion as churches move farther away from scripture ( and many churches are doing it) the numbers will continue to decline. The only way to increase the numbers is by a return to teaching the Authority and Truth of the Holy Bible.

  • Jill on February 15, 2014

    1 Corinthians 13, Paul says, “When I was a child, I thought like a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put those ways behind me.”

    I disagree with this post not because youth aren’t mature enough to lead, but because, well, they’re growing youth. At this age, young Christians are still trying to grow spiritually and firmly grasp truth of God, the Bible, Scripture, grace, and all that falls in between. They are beginners– just starting to take their faith into their own hearts. This isn’t bad, it’s normal and good. But having them lead the church won’t increase numbers and they don’t need the added pressure of being in charge of church issues and voting. It is wonderful to allow youth to learn about how presbyteries and General Assembly matters are run, but that’s where the line should be drawn. Learning. We must allow them to learn as they still establish their faith before they are off on their own, in college and beyond.

    This isn’t to say that they’re incapable of leadership. They are not. But they need to learn from their elders. They need to value traditions of worship, Scripture, church governing, and the legacy of Jesus Christ, how God wills the church to be with Jesus as the head of the body of followers. Elders and youth need each other, but elders should remain in the LEAD as a way to counsel youth to be the BEST present AND future they can be to glorify God.

    So, I

  • Jill on February 15, 2014

    Respect your opinion, but I wish you would consider these points.

  • Janet Edwards on February 16, 2014

    Dear Craig, Bill and Jill,

    Thanks to you all for your comments. They help me expand on some things I could only touch on in my initial thoughts.

    Bill, you and I have participated a good while in the controversy over approach to Scripture that has torn the church apart since the Enlightenment. I outlined primary PCUSA historic manifestations of this dynamic in the post. There may be some chance that PCUSA youth have seen the division it leads to and embrace freedom of conscience in community that is the Presbyterian solution to it. I do not want to drag them into it. The gulf between you and me is proof positive of the costly futility of that, in my opinion.

    Jill, you help me see some of the danger inherent in referring to the YAADs as “children.” Paul’s use of the image of “children” in 1 Corinthians does seem to challenge my thinking. Two things come to my mind in response.

    First, the understanding of children in Paul’s time was very different from ours. There was no childhood, as we understand it, for him. Up until the last century in the West and still in many societies by necessity now, what we think of as children became adults when they were weaned from their mothers. This is why children in Renaissance and Reformation paintings wear adult clothing. The girls were prepared for marriage and the boys began to take on their father’s work.

    When Paul speaks of children he is thinking of what we consider to be pre-school children. Also, the average life expectancy in Paul’s time was 30 years. Fifteen year-olds could be parents and established in work. A PCUSA young adult who has the energy and love for the church to agree to serve as a YAAD is not what Paul conceives of as a child. They are mature in faith and knowledge of modernity.

    Second, I am deeply concerned about the speed of change in our time. I think it is fair to say that the speed of change for Isaiah, Joel and Paul was pretty much the same. Things changed over centuries. Now they change over decades if not faster. I am acknowledging that change has been, and is, so swift that I hardly know right now how to participate in the means of communication and community that are common now, let alone what will be in 2040. And these are exactly what the church is meant to be about: communication of the gospel and creation of community.

    If wisdom comes from experience, then it is the experience of the 17 to 23 year-olds that can best inform us on how to go and what to do to be the church into the future. We cannot wait. We need to learn from them, not them from us.

    I would like to hear how you all would apply Isaiah 11:6 and Joel 2:28 to right now and I thank you again for sharing of yourself here.

    Peace, Janet

  • Craig Barth, R.E. on February 16, 2014

    I think both the Isaiah and Joel verses speak to me by saying that chronological age is no precondition to being a Prophet, or prophesying, in the Old Testament concept of both. True, conventional thought says wisdom usually comes with age, however, don’t we need a little prophesy here? A little bit of Holy Spirit inspired “outside-the-box” insight-prophesy?

    Also, thru the website some demographics might be insightful. First, I will not depress you with the overall stats of the population decline of PCUSA. However, germane to the current discussion is that the age decade of 60-70 comprises 24% of PCUSA membership. The greatest proportion of membership decade. The decade of age 15-25 is <8%. The decade of 20-30 is <5%. The median age is 63. That median age is creeping up by one year in every 5. That "age creep" rate is increasing. Median US population age is at least 10 years younger than the median Presbyterian.

    No one is proposing handing over power to children. But if you assume that power should be shared in proportion reflective of the current age makeup of the denomination, is 5% or 8% too much to ask?

    Please read the Hymn # 769 in Glory to God, "For everyone born, a place at the table" Especially verse 3.

  • Donna on February 17, 2014

    Hopefully my input here is welcomed even though I am no longer a member of the PC(USA)…

    I’ve just spent a few hours as Craig suggested checking out statistics on the PC(USA). In general, this seems to be the portrait of the church: mostly white, mostly older, mostly more well-off, mostly comprised of two-parent households, mostly more theologically conservative than liberal, mostly losing membership and whole congregations.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t come across any PC (USA) documents with statistics by age, only external reports. There is something missing from Craig’s numbers as they only total 37%:

    15-25 – 8%
    20-30 – 5%
    30-40 – ?
    40-50 – ?
    50-60 – ?
    60-70 – 24%
    70+ -?

    I’m going to assume that the bulk of the remaining 63% rests in the “middle aged” brackets from 40-60. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m also going to assume that around 12% of all membership is GLBT (out or not), or around 140,000 people.

    My statement is this: The PC(USA) can ill afford to have *any* of its membership underrepresented on policy votes or strategic planning for the church’s future.

    If the church decides that the current portrait of the church is what it wants to be in the future, it need do nothing at all. However it must accept the fact that as racial diversity, single parent families, GLBT visibility and acceptance, and the disparity between the well-off and working poor increase in the national population, the church’s membership will continue to decrease. In this reality, Janet is correct: in the face of rapidly changing population demographics, the PC(USA) reflects a somewhat 1950s and 1960s demographic, even though it appears that the most conservative membership is leaving.

    If the church wants to develop a different portrait of itself, it has a lot of work to do, but I would not say the answer is to let the youth lead. Rather, representation from the kind of demographics that comprise that future image of the church, or at least representation from each of the demographic groups currently within the church, is necessary.

    The question is whether the church can change its leadership ranks that quickly. If not, it must do something new, like create a strategic planning team that is demographically representative of the whole to work out a three to five year plan on how to reach a general population that is very different, a team independent of leadership with the authority to change what’s necessary and has the blessing and full support of membership and leadership.

    So, while I understand where Janet is coming from, and don’t fault her for the call she is given (rather, I admire her boldness in accepting and presenting it), I think something more urgent and more representative of the whole is in order so that experience exists alongside youthful vision and there is a fair distribution of all voices present. But the format proposed, I’m sure, is far more controversial because it requires leadership at all levels giving up their power to a group that may never have had power at all. Perhaps that is what is needed for a future and a hope.

    I wish the church and all here the very best.


  • Craig Barth on February 17, 2014

    For Donna, here are the remainder of the age demographics, forgive me for interpolating numbers from heights on a bar graph:

    For the sake of Janet’s initial thread, I limited my initial comments to that to the lack of age diversity. However, I agree with Donna in that I would like to see PCUSA become a “rainbow” of ages, economic, ethnic and sexual orientations.

    Dare I expand this conversation to throw out a scarier thought: perhaps denominationalism has something in common with national boundaries, in that they are extensions of human power (and not God’s power) and are ways of separating the “us” from the “them”. After all, Christ did not found PCUSA, UMC or UCC,. Wouldn’t it be something (as much as I love PCUSA), as we see an increased secularization and globalization of society, if we see the death of denominationalism and a return to “the Upper Room” Church?

  • Bill on February 17, 2014

    Denominations , including my own, are EXACTLY the problem, IMO. But now we are back to the same old arguement as before: Is the Bible true and correct?

  • Donna on February 17, 2014

    Hi Craig, all,

    Thanks for pointing me to a definitive document. My assumptions weren’t too far off – with the exception of a bulk distribution at the far end of the age scale. Those numbers above then look like this (I’ve amended the age brackets to be in 10 year increments for ease of reference):

    Age % membership
    14-19 = 3%
    20-29 = 4%
    30-39 = 8%
    40-49 = 12%
    50-59 = 16%
    60-69 = 24%
    70-79 = 19%
    80 + = 14%

    Denominations I think are necessary due to specific beliefs, like baptism (adult, infant, and holy spirit), predestination, communion, etc. These were beliefs formed hundreds of years ago when argument over what was theologically “correct” was as vivid as the argument over civil rights was 50 years ago, and GLBT rights is now. Those core beliefs are necessary I think, otherwise membership will be confused over what communion means, etc.

    The PC(USA) obviously took a major step forward in support of civil rights and against racism; somewhere in its thinking it concluded that a person’s skin color doesn’t matter when it comes to membership – a person cannot help the color of their skin. Why that same line of thinking is not translated to GLBT people rests only in thing: misunderstandings and myths about sex, attraction, and sexual orientation. People don’t select their skin color; nor do they select their sexual orientation (whom they are attracted to); nor do they select what social class they are born into. There are always exceptions to these “rules” but generally speaking, they are logically consistent. At this point I’ll apologize for a major digression from the topic and get back to it.

    What I propose in terms of a transformation team above is not something new to churches or businesses. It comes from quality management methods as developed by W. Edwards Deming. While his work may seem more appropriate for businesses, it’s really all about cooperation, systems thinking in terms of processes – lifting blame off of people and correcting systems so that they produce the desired result.

    In order for the PC(USA) to survive, it needs to look at that the document you provided here and determine if that is the reflection of itself it wants to see in the coming years. If it wants a new reflection or portrait of itself, it needs to do something new, apart from its established systems, in order to correct them and produce the desired result. Why apart from established systems? Because systems already producing flawed results are not capable of correcting themselves. Note: I am not saying that some strange outside force should come in and take over. Not at all. But a transformation team comprised of members representative of the whole and hopefully the desired result as well: young, old, straight, gay/lesbian, poor, rich, families, singles, Democrat, Republican, male/female/transgendered. People who are members that love the church, wish to see it not only survive but thrive, and people who may have never had any power positions in the church, but love it just the same; people who together can cooperate to create a new and healthy vision for the church, keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to bring others into relationship with Christ – not to save them, or to judge them (that is God’s work) – but to bring them in to the relationship. Why must it have the both the authority and blessing of leadership and membership? Because it needs to do what they system is currently failing to do: be effective and efficient, and produce results.

    God has blessed you with a brilliant mind Craig – your instincts and logic are spot on.

    Again, blessings to all here…


  • Janet Edwards on February 18, 2014

    Dear Donna, Craig, Jill and Bill,

    I am grateful to you all for your comments. You have helped my thinking immensely.

    Bill, I agree completely that you bring us around to “the same old argument,” a loop that is killing the church. Our youth seem to be able to jump out this dead end. I am looking to them for ways to live and let live with our different approaches to Scripture so we can speak the Gospel in word and deed as one.

    Jill, your point about the younger learning from the older is well taken. One thing I see in Isaiah 11:6 is that the reverse is true also. The older have things to learn from the younger especially in a time like ours with such swift change. We have shared responsibility for the church. All of us have wisdom to help us into the future but the structure empowers the old more than the young. I am for a balance empowering both. Do you see that?

    Craig and Donna, I look forward to learning from your dialogue. We know that the commissioners to GA are not supposed to “represent” their presbytery or any other group but it does seem reasonable to consider representation there of the younger believers in the church. There was a report on changing structures considered by the 220th General Assembly (a good number of younger leaders participated in its writing). It stalled. We seem to be in another loop of innovation being turned back.

    I feel that I have been inspired to offer a way to jump out of that same old track. Do you see that?

    Please respond and I hope others feel moved to join in. Peace, Janet

  • Bill on February 18, 2014


    Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

    This seems pretty clear and straight forward to me. “Church”, not “Churches”.
    What does this mean to you?

  • Donna on February 18, 2014

    Hi Janet,

    They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result, so the alternatives are to do nothing (and die a slow death) or change (which may be so painful it feels like dying, until you start seeing positive results).

    I think the step you are advocating for the PC(USA) is a good one – it’s a start. My concern is whether the church has time for gradual progress, but a step in the right direction is better than none at all. The longer change is delayed, the more the church will wane.

    Because you know me well enough, I know you’re not surprised at my radical approach to “change it all and change it now.” It comes from a business sense to “stop the bleeding” as they say. When you’ve done all you can to resolve a situation, to no avail, it’s time to try something new.



  • Bill on February 22, 2014

    I came across this today. I dont know the author personally, but IMO, it says volumes……
    Interpreting and Understanding the Bible

    Written by Bob Williams


    Some religious groups claim that they have been given the authority to interpret Scripture for all. Others believe that the Bible can be understood only with further miraculous and discriminatory help from the Holy Spirit, and that such help is given only to them. Probably most denominational groups believe their particular interpretation of Scripture is the only right one. Can any person of normal intelligence pick up a Bible and understand its message? Is it reasonable to believe that the Bible can be understandable to those who read its words?

    2 Peter 1:20-21 and Interpretation

    Many who claim that ordinary people cannot understand the Bible have misapplied the words of 2 Peter 1:20-21: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Some have used this passage to claim that ordinary people are not able to interpret Scripture, but that is not what Peter said. The verb “is” in v20 is translated from the verb ginomai, meaning to become or spring into being. The context itself shows that Peter is stating that Scripture does not come (or spring into being) from the writer’s (“one’s”) own personal ideas or interpretation, but from the Holy Spirit’s inspiration only. This is clearly shown by viewing v20 in light of v21. The passage is about the authors of Scripture; it has nothing whatsoever to do with the reader’s understanding.

    Scripture Written to Ordinary People

    The Bible itself indicates that it is intended for ordinary people to understand. The letters which are assembled together to form the New Testament were originally addressed to ordinary Christians or to entire congregations of people. Consider a few examples:

    “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints.” Romans 1:1,7

    “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Colossians 1:1-2

    “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:1

    “And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.” Colossians 4:16

    “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.” I Thessalonians 5:27

    “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: the time is at hand.” Revelations 1:3

    New Testament writings were written to ordinary members of the church and it was intended that the writings be read by or be read to those people. The divine instruction is “read”, “hear”, “read to”, etc. Thus, the scriptures themselves tell us that we are to read them ourselves; no mention is made of needing an interpreter to understand them. It is God’s will and desire that His word be studied and understood by each individual who would believe and become obedient to that will.

    Notice what Paul said in Ephesians 3:3-5: “By revelation (from God) there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.” Paul clearly states that we can understand what he wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    Why do People Interpret the Bible Differently?

    If the Bible is indeed written in a manner that is intended to be understandable, why are there so many different interpretations on various issues? There may not be a simple answer for this question, but following are a few possible explanations:

    1. Some have not asked for wisdom.

    James 1:5 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” God has promised to help those who sincerely ask for such.

    Not only do we perhaps often fail to ask for wisdom, but perhaps we also often fail to ask with the proper motive. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Though the context of this verse is not specifically about wisdom, it may be that our prayers for wisdom may not be answered because something is amiss in our hearts.

    2. Some are not diligently searching for truth.

    Jesus often spoke in parables; perhaps He did so in order that those who truly wished to know the truth would understand, but the rest would not. Those who were not diligently searching for truth would hear only stories and would not comprehend the deeper truths being given.

    In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter spoke of Paul’s writings and said, “As also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Peter acknowledged that some teachings of Scripture would be difficult to understand. Notice he says it is the untaught and unstable who twist such things to their own destruction. Perhaps they do so because their hearts are not truly searching for the truth of God’s word. 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 speaks of God sending a deluding influence upon those who did not love the truth. Romans 1:28 says that God gave some over to a depraved mind.

    In contrast, consider the example of Cornelius in Acts 10. He is described as “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually (Acts 10:2). The context of the chapter shows that he was a man who was diligently searching for the truth, and thus he was provided a way to learn (by way of Peter).

    3. Some are deceived or misled by false teaching.

    Perhaps because of a lack of love for truth, some seem to be easily swayed by false teaching. In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-15, Paul was greatly concerned that the church in Corinth might be led away and deceived by those who were “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”

    Paul said in Ephesians 4:14 that some are “children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” He sadly declares in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate to themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.”

    1 Timothy 4:1 says, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” Destructive false doctrines of that day were Jewish legalism, gnosticism, asceticism, antinomianism, and docetism.

    Note: It is apparently improper to label all who would err in their teaching as false teachers. Compare the example of Apollos in Acts 18:24-28 and the false teachers of 2 Peter 2:1-3. Apollos was not called a false teacher because his motive was pure; he simply needed help to better understand the truth. On the other hand, those whom Peter called false were called such because they indeed had false motives and were of poor character.

    4. Some misunderstand due to insufficient scholarship.

    Some set out with all sincerity and honesty to understand what the Bible teaches but fail to accurately interpret Scripture simply because they have not studied sufficiently. Perhaps they have not adequately determined the proper context, or misunderstand the historical setting, or perhaps they make some other mistake in trying to properly understand a passage.

    5. Some look for proof texts to support what they already believe.

    The task of Bible students today is to interpret Scripture in light of its true context. Productive and responsible Bible study requires a proper exegesis, which is defined as a critical examination and interpretation of Scripture based upon its historical setting and meaning to its original readers.

    Some Bible students, however, often go to Scripture to find support for what they have already decided (perhaps influenced by their culture or the traditional viewpoint espoused by his/her fellowship). This process is generally called eisogesis, which is defined as reading one’s own meaning into a text. While those who practice this method of interpretation may do so with the most honest of intentions, it is nevertheless a dangerous practice if one is truly in search of the truth (consider the example of the unbelieving Jews in Romans 10:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 2:8). We need to strive to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who searched the Scriptures daily to make sure they held only to the truth.

    6. Some use different methods of interpretation (hermeneutics).

    Not everyone holds to the same method of interpretation (even though acknowledging the authority of Scripture):

    Some think that many things are acceptable if not specifically condemned in Scripture; others think many things are NOT acceptable if not specifically mentioned and authorized in Scripture.

    Some espouse the authority of commands, examples, and necessary inferences, while others hesitate to recognize and bind anything beyond clear and relevant commands.

    Some believe every item of Scripture is to be interpreted literally, while others believe that some items are intended to be figurative in nature. Not everyone agrees on what is intended to be literal and what is intended to be figurative (for example, the book of Revelation)

    Some believe that some commands or examples are relevant only to the people and culture of the early church, while others seek to apply such things to people of all time (speaking in tongues, feet washing, etc.)

    Some interpret the NT as a written law and emphasize the importance of complying with the various details of commands and examples. Others believe the writings of the NT are not intended to be used as a written code, and thus they generally look more at the broader principles found in Scripture.


    Christians believe the Bible is infallible, but certainly we ourselves are not. When we as mere humans set out to interpret the Bible, we sometimes fail to do so as God intended. Some no doubt interpret Scripture more accurately than do others, but it is doubtful that anyone has mastered every point of doctrine perfectly (see James 3:1-2). And, while some things may be difficult to understand, surely those things that are truly necessary to come into a saved relationship with the Lord are clear and easily understood by honest people searching for truth.

    Christians will likely always have differing viewpoints on various issues. But let us remember the admonition of Paul in Romans 14:1, 13, 19: “[Let us seek to] accept the one who is weak . . . let us not judge one another anymore, . . . [nor] put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. . . So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”

  • Janet Edwards on February 24, 2014

    Dear Bill,

    Please do not share posts from other people or on topics that are not directly relevant to the discussion at hand. If you violate this common sense boundary for dialogue here, then I will stop your participation.

    What is relevant here is how you understand Isaiah and Joel. And who you see to be the best leaders of the church into the 21st century.

    Thank you for attending to those concerns here. Peace, Janet

  • Bill on February 26, 2014

    Janet ,
    John 3:20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”

  • Janet Edwards on February 28, 2014

    Dear BIll,

    I hope, some day, that you will see how unhelpful simply dropping a Bible verse like this into a conversation is, Bill. We do not know what you mean or what you are referring to. The verse by itself does not reveal those things.

    I can certainly guess that you see me and those who think like me as evil and fearful. Like you, I sin and rely upon the mercy of God in Jesus for righteousness. As far as I know myself I am not fearful of being exposed. But two things are most important:

    I don’t know if this is what you meant. It is a presumption on my part; only you can say.

    And what I am is irrelevant to the dialogue I hope can have here. I ask you to stay with the topic at hand and, if this is what I think or me or others, then to keep it to yourself. This is not a place for comment on persons. If you do that again, I will stop your access to the conversation.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on February 28, 2014


    You might find this helpful, or not: when Bill does that, I always find it humorous because it is, I think, a scripture that he himself should discern for his own spiritual growth. By that, I mean to say, it is likely, I think, that the very articles and scriptures Bill posts here for your (and your readers’) edification, are given to him by God for Bill’s own edification, and he never thinks it’s for him.


  • Janet Edwards on March 1, 2014

    Dear Donna,

    Yes, I like the insight: When we point a finger at someone else, three fingers point back to me. What troubles me with sharing that here is the way it is simply judgment of what Bill is saying and borders on comment on him as a person. Neither of these are valuable in nurturing a good conversation here.

    And humor is very hard in cyberspace. It borders on disrespect or can be felt to be that with the listeners.

    That’s why I don’t go there. Bill is in God’s hands, as we all are. Peace, Janet

  • Donna on March 1, 2014

    Hi Janet, this is true. I stand corrected and apologize.


  • Katy Stenta on March 16, 2014

    I find your article interesting, because I noticed at the last GA, every single close vote, the YADs were more intensely skewed and that all of them went against what the YADs were reccommending (the two I remember were about marriage and Israel). This frustrated me because it seemed like people weren’t listening to the YADs–and because as an ordained pastor–I was young enough to be considered a YAD. One good point someone made was that the advisory vote is made minutes before the regular vote, which isn’t a lot of time to REALLY take it into account….but other than that I found the whole process frustrating. Here we are begging to understand what is going on with the “young people” (however you define that) and then not listening to the ones we have….(the other irritation I had was there were no provisions for children and/or childcare at GA…how can we expect young families to participate if we don’t/can’t accomodate them)……

  • Janet Edwards on March 17, 2014

    Dear Katy,

    Thank you so much for your affirmation of my covenant to vote, as a commissioner at the coming PCUSA General Assembly, with the majority of the Young Adult Advisory Delegates.

    It is really important for us to hear the impact that our (the elder generation) hold on the crucial choices we need to make right now has on the younger generation (you).

    I have pondered a lot an earlier comment suggesting that the older generation still needs to teach the younger the elements of our faith in Christ. I very much disagree. If the faith of the youth in our church were not super strong, including loyalty to the Presbyterian tradition, you would be among the huge number who have drifted away. But you are not–thank you!

    And, perhaps we (the older) can admit, that you know way better than my generation what the future holds, as well as how to proclaim the Gospel in that kind of community. I hope we can have the humility to admit that.

    Until we do, we will continue to frustrate your generation as we did in Pittsburgh in 2012. How can you help, Katy, to spread this invitation to empower the YAADs this June? Thanks in advance for any effort you make in that direction!

    Peace, Janet

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